WELD COUNTY – The outspoken sheriff who has said he’d rather sit in his own jail than violate someone’s constitutional rights because of Colorado’s red flag law, may be the one person who has standing to file suit against it.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams is working closely with the Weld County Attorney to determine what his next steps will be in challenging the red flag law after an inmate in his jail was able to utilize the law to apply for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) against Reams.
That could include everything from challenging a specific portion of the law to the law’s validity in general.
“I’ve talked to several attorneys who have told me we have to file something,” Reams said. “What exactly that is, we are in the consideration phase of that right now.”
Weld District Court Chief Judge James Hartmann dismissed the ERPO order, but several unanswered questions remain, Reams said.
Reams, who was not aware an ERPO had been filed against him until the judge denied it, said the biggest issue is the judge didn’t address whether the inmate actually had standing to even file the request.
Reams used a Larimer County case as an example of what should have happened, he said. In that case a woman claimed she had a child in common with a Colorado State University Police Officer because she gave birth to a son and the officer killed the same son in a shooting. However, the judge in Larimer County dismissed the case saying the woman who filed for the ERPO did not share a child with the officer and therefore did not have standing to file in the first place.
She was subsequently charged with filing a false report.
That did not happen in Reams’ case.
The inmate, who Reams said is a frequent visitor to his jail, put on the application that he “regularly resided” with Reams because he is an inmate in the jail Reams oversees as sheriff.
“Essentially, the inmate was given standing by default because the judge didn’t rule he didn’t have standing,” Reams said. “By not doing that, it kind of puts us in limbo. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is binding for every case like it, but it does set a precedent. “What if someone decided to file an ERPO on the governor because he oversees the Department of Corrections?”
Although Reams always believed someone would find a way to get him involved early on in the implementation, he always thought it would be political. He never dreamed he would be the defendant because of one of his own inmates.
Reams said despite that each ERPO filing is supposed to be evaluated on its own merits, if someone applying for an ERPO knows a similar filing was accepted by the courts, any others will have a stronger argument. Technically, this was accepted when Hartmann didn’t rule on the inmate’s claim he lived with the Sheriff.
Reams also pointed out that the ERPO filed against him reinforced his belief that it creates an ex parte hearing because the plaintiff, in this case Reams, has no idea the order’s been filed.
“I had no idea this had been filed until I got the order from the judge that it had been dismissed,” he said.
Some other concerns Reams has is as he oversees and is responsible for all the deputies, he’s not sure how that would have been handled had the judge found the filing valid. Under the law, it’s the sheriff that executes the ERPOs. It’s the sheriff that is responsible for taking possession of the guns.
“One, every one of my deputies would have been disarmed because I am in charge of their weapons,” Reams said. “And two, who would I have turned them in to?”
According to Reams, the county will decide exactly what to challenge in the coming days, but the sheriff says something has to be challenged in order to prevent this from happening again.